Power Rankings: Shake-ups start at No. 1 while NL races narrow

Athletics surging in latest power rankings (1:17)

The Baseball Tonight crew discusses the latest batch of power rankings, with ESPN.com having the Athletics at No. 4 and David Ross ranking Oakland at No. 3. (1:17)

The Boston Red Sox are cruising toward a franchise record for wins, just three shy of reaching a pinnacle no other Sox team has reached. But that doesn't earn them extra consideration among baseball's superteams, because they just fell from No. 1 behind the defending world champs as the Houston Astros garnered four of five first-place votes to shake things up at the top.

That wasn't the only big change in the rankings. The tight crossover competition among the teams dueling to gain either the National League's second wild card or win the NL West race has the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals running neck-and-neck down the stretch. Their three-way fight for two playoff spots has had an impact on this week's rankings as well, with the Rockies swapping in for the Cardinals to make their way into our top 10.

In terms of gains and losses, the Rockies' two-spot advance in the rankings was tied for the biggest gain, with similar moves by the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds. The biggest declines were suffered by the Cardinals, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants, who each fell two spots. Between the D-backs' fading postseason hopes and the Giants' outright collapse, the Cardinals have to hope losing ground this week is ultimately the only thing they'll have in common with those two teams.

This week, our panel of voters is composed of David Schoenfield, Eric Karabell, Tim Kurkjian, Bradford Doolittle and Sarah Langs.

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1. Houston Astros

Record: 94-55
Week 23 ranking: 2

The Astros finished up a six-game road trip to Boston and Detroit by going 5-1 to improve their road record to an impressive 52-22 (.703) on the season. They are on pace to easily eclipse the franchise's best road mark (53-28, set last year). Houston is on pace to achieve the third-best road record by any team in the past 100 years; only the 1939 Yankees (54-20) and the 2001 Mariners (59-22) were better. -- Jacob Nitzberg, ESPN Stats & Information

2. Boston Red Sox

Record: 103-47
Week 23 ranking: 1

Not much more can be said about J.D. Martinez's success. Martinez became the first Red Sox hitter with a 40-home run, 120-RBI season since David Ortiz in 2005. There have been only nine players in franchise history to reach those marks, including Martinez. But Martinez has been hitting for average as well; he could become the fourth Red Sox player to have reached those marks while hitting .325 in a full season, joining Mo Vaughn, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx. -- Dan McCarthy, ESPN Stats & Information

3. New York Yankees

Record: 91-58
Week 23 ranking: 3

One of the main questions for the Yankees over the past month has been who would pitch in the wild-card game as they attempt to reach the American League Division Series. Their choice might have emerged from the pack over the past couple of weeks, as Masahiro Tanaka has a league-low 0.43 ERA and a 3-0 record since Sept. 1. Over that same span, the rest of the starting staff has a 5.13 ERA. -- McCarthy

4. Oakland Athletics

Record: 90-60
Week 23 ranking: 5

With Matt Chapman leading the way with the AL's highest OPS and slugging percentage since the All-Star break, the A's are on track to win their most games in a season since the original "Moneyball" squad piled up 103 wins in 2002. But if they can't pick up a couple games on New York in the next two weeks, all that might earn them is a trip to Yankee Stadium for the American League's sudden-death play-in game. -- Christina Kahrl, ESPN.com

5. Chicago Cubs

Record: 87-62
Week 23 ranking: 4

The Cubs got out of their weeklong series with the Nationals with a split of the four-game set that took eight days to finish. It came at a significant cost, as closer Pedro Strop was injured running the bases Thursday and will be out for a few weeks. Strop will be tough to replace: Since taking over as closer after the All-Star break, he has posted a 1.77 ERA and 0.84 WHIP and held opponents to a .139 batting average. -- Nitzberg

6. Cleveland Indians

Record: 83-66
Week 23 ranking: 6

Just because the Indians have already clinched their third consecutive AL Central title doesn't mean they don't have plenty left to do in the season's final weeks. They need to see if Josh Donaldson can contribute reliably at third base; they need to get Jason Kipnis reps in center field; and, perhaps most important, they need to see Trevor Bauer come back ready to handle a starter's workload with his return this week from a stress fracture in his right shin. -- Kahrl

7. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 82-68
Week 23 ranking: 7

Even as the Dodgers position player with the longest consecutive tenure with the team (despite being just 27 years old), Yasiel Puig still finds ways to surprise you. Hitting five home runs in two games -- off five different pitchers in that span, a first in Dodgers history -- can certainly change the outlook on his season, but the right fielder is having his best year yet via Isolated Power and his first season slugging over .500 since his rookie campaign back in 2013. And his next stolen base will set a single-season career high. -- Kahrl

8. Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 85-65
Week 23 ranking: 8

The Brewers took two of three against the Cubs again last week to close the gap in the NL Central race. Two big reasons why were Lorenzo Cain and Josh Hader. Cain went 8-for-14 (.571) in the series and added a couple of fantastic defensive plays in center field, while Hader struck out nine of the 10 batters he faced, including eight in a row. Cubs hitters went 4-for-35 (.114) against him this season. -- Nitzberg

9. Atlanta Braves

Record: 83-66
Week 23 ranking: 9

The Braves might be playing their best baseball yet after suffering a disappointing sweep by the Red Sox, having taken a series in Arizona that launched their longest winning streak of the season. Their rotation has been one of the best in baseball since the beginning of August, and their September hitting has returned to its April levels of excellence. -- Evan Wildstein, ESPN Stats & Information

10. Colorado Rockies

Record: 82-67
Week 23 ranking: 12

Last week could not have started any better as the Rockies took three of four from the Diamondbacks, outscoring Arizona 31-15 in the process. Colorado, however, followed it up by failing to score a single run against the Giants on Friday and Saturday, marking the first time this season the Rockies were shut out in consecutive games. This could be a make-or-break week for Bud Black's club, as Colorado hits the road for back-to-back series against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. -- Paul Casella, ESPN Stats & Information

11. Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 82-66
Week 23 ranking: 13

The Rays have a bona fide ace. In his most recent outing, Blake Snell held the Indians to one run on one hit with nine strikeouts to earn his 19th win. Snell has a 2.03 ERA, trailing just Jacob deGrom among qualified MLB starters. The only time in franchise history the Rays have had a 20-game winner was in 2012, when David Price went 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA. Snell should have a couple more starts to match or surpass that. -- McCarthy

12. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 82-68
Week 23 ranking: 10

The Matt Carpenter MVP train has hit a few speed bumps. After hitting .338 from May 16 through Aug. 8, he's hitting just .218 since. He had a .729 slugging percentage in that first span, but .371 since. One problem? Low pitches. Carpenter hit .318 with a .693 slugging percentage in at-bats ending on lower-half pitches from May 16 through Aug. 8, but hit just .187, slugging .320, since. His .925 OPS still ranks fourth in the NL behind Paul Goldschmidt, Christian Yelich and Nolan Arenado. Will he lose out on the NL MVP to one of them (or someone else entirely)? -- Sarah Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

13. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 78-72
Week 23 ranking: 11

Between a rotation posting an MLB-best 3.22 ERA since the All-Star break, the MVP-worthy season of Paul Goldschmidt and breakout seasons from David Peralta, Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed, there's no end of blame to go around for why the Snakes have slipped. In the second half, A.J. Pollock has a .666 OPS, their catchers have combined for an NL-worst .538 OPS, their right fielders .688 (26th in MLB), and their 5.19 bullpen ERA ranks 25th. It's no surprise they're below .500 since the break. -- Kahrl

14. Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 76-72
Week 23 ranking: 14

Through Aug. 7, the Phillies had a 1½-game lead in the NL East. They had a 64-49 record for a .566 winning percentage that ranked second in the NL behind the Cubs. But since Aug. 8, they're 12-23, a .343 winning percentage that's second-to-last in the NL, ahead of only the Marlins. Through Aug. 7, the Phillies had a 69 percent chance to make the playoffs according to FanGraphs, and a 53 percent chance to win the division. That's now down to a 3 percent chance of reaching the playoffs and 3 percent of winning the division. -- Langs

15. Washington Nationals

Record: 76-74
Week 23 ranking: 16

Juan Soto continues the rewrite the record books for baseball youngsters. He's one of three players with 20 or more home runs in a season as a teenager, along with Tony Conigliaro and teammate Bryce Harper. His .421 OBP is on pace to be the highest by a teenager in a season in MLB history. His 16.6 percent walk rate would blow away the current best walk rate from a teen in a season: Mickey Mantle's 11.1 percent in 1951. -- Langs

16. Seattle Mariners

Record: 82-67
Week 23 ranking: 15

The Mariners would be right in the thick of the division race if they played in the AL Central. They'd also be taking the Braves down to the wire in the NL East; same with the Dodgers and Rockies in the NL West. Seattle would also be squarely in the wild-card mix if it played in the NL. Unfortunately, the Mariners play in the AL West, meaning their postseason drought will almost certainly continue for at least another year despite putting together their best season since 2003. -- Casella

17. Los Angeles Angels

Record: 74-76
Week 23 ranking: 18

This season has not gone as planned for Shohei Ohtani or the Angels, but the two-way phenom has arguably been the best hitter in the majors since the start of August. He leads all hitters in slugging percentage, OPS and home run percentage during that span. Teammate Mike Trout hasn't been too bad, either: Despite missing some time for a second straight season, Trout raised his career WAR to 63.5 over the weekend, passing Ty Cobb for the most WAR by any position player through his age-26 season. -- Casella

18. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 74-74
Week 23 ranking: 17

Perhaps the Pirates can end their final homestand on a high note. They've won five straight games at home and get the Royals -- who own baseball's second-worst road record -- to start this week. They'll finish up against the Brewers, whom they've beaten six out of seven times at PNC Park this season. -- Wildstein

19. New York Mets

Record: 69-80
Week 23 ranking: 21

Jacob deGrom's Cy Young case seems to get stronger with each passing day, and his rivals' results don't hurt it (like Max Scherzer's season-high six earned runs Friday). The Mets ace also has a career-best five RBIs. He faced Chris Sale -- the presumptive favorite for AL Cy Young -- on Sunday at Fenway Park. Though hitting wasn't on the docket since the game was at an AL park, it's worth noting that deGrom, who attended Stetson University, faced Sale (who went to Florida Gulf Coast) in college, and homered off him once. It was deGrom's only college home run. -- Langs

20. Minnesota Twins

Record: 68-81
Week 23 ranking: 20

Forget the pennant race; the Twins are worth watching for another reason entirely: the unusual exploits of rookie Willians Astudillo. The beefy, multi-positional 26-year-old is quickly becoming a folk hero in the Twin Cities as he rumbles around the field and on the basepaths, and at the plate his hack-happy swing has produced a quick three home runs -- as many as he has strikeouts and walks combined in 57 plate appearances. -- Wildstein

21. San Francisco Giants

Record: 70-80
Week 23 ranking: 19

The Giants lost 11 consecutive games to start September, the team's longest losing streak since 1951, before it moved to San Francisco. The Giants broke that streak and got an encouraging outing from Chris Stratton on Friday night. Stratton threw his first career shutout, which was the first shutout by a Giants pitcher since Jeff Samardzija on Aug. 28, 2017. That earned Stratton, the 20th overall pick in the 2012 draft, his 10th win of the season, and he became the first Giants pitcher with 10 or more wins in a season since Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner each got there in 2016. -- Langs

22. Cincinnati Reds

Record: 64-86
Week 23 ranking: 24

Cincinnati will try to surpass last season's win total of 68 this week, but that might not make Reds fans feel that much better. If the Reds don't reach 70 wins this season, they'll be the first team to win fewer than 70 games in four straight seasons since the Orioles did it five straight years from 2007-11. -- Wildstein

23. Texas Rangers

Record: 64-85
Week 23 ranking: 22

The Rangers came within five outs of being no-hit by the Angels on Tuesday. Although they were able to avoid being on the wrong end of history, they will not be able to escape a second consecutive losing season. The Rangers clinched back-to-back seasons with a losing record for the first time since four consecutive from 2000-03. -- Casella

24. Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 67-82
Week 23 ranking: 23

After a disastrous first two outings for Aaron Sanchez after he came back from the disabled list, allowing 11 runs and 18 hits over 8⅓ innings, he has turned a corner in September. Over his past two starts, Sanchez held opponents to four runs over 13 innings. Anything that helps the Blue Jays know they can count on him to shore up their rotation heading into 2019 is good news at this point. -- McCarthy

25. Detroit Tigers

Record: 61-88
Week 23 ranking: 25

The Tigers are one of many teams looking toward the future this September, and that begins with their three-time minor league player of the year, Christin Stewart, who made his major league debut last Sunday. Stewart had three straight 25-homer seasons in the minors, and made his call-up look like a no-brainer by hitting .354/.482/.631 in his final 20 minor league games, finishing the season on an 11-game hit streak -- and then he got a hit in each of his first three MLB starts. -- Nitzberg

26. San Diego Padres

Record: 60-90
Week 23 ranking: 26

The Padres, like many teams out of contention, are taking a look at their young pitching options down the stretch, even going with a six-man rotation at times. Unfortunately it has not been paying dividends, as San Diego's rotation has a 5.83 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and has allowed a .289 opponents' batting average since the All-Star break, all of which are the worst in the NL in that span. -- Nitzberg

27. Chicago White Sox

Record: 59-90
Week 23 ranking: 27

Fighting to avoid a 100-loss season, the White Sox have to enjoy what few silver linings they can find. Center fielder Adam Engel has been a big part of their pitching turnaround in the second half, contributing 17 outs above average, third-best in MLB. Outfielder Daniel Palka is the only AL rookie with 20 or more home runs who isn't a Yankee. Nate Jones came back from the disabled list to nail down his fifth save and get a head start on taking over as next season's closer. -- Kahrl

28. Kansas City Royals

Record: 52-97
Week 23 ranking: 29

Thanks to a stretch when they won eight out of nine, including six in a row in late August and early September, the Royals are making a push to avoid the worst record in franchise history. The 2005 Royals finished at 56-106 (.346), which means the current team would have to win four of its final 13 games to avoid this historical lowlight. -- Nitzberg

29. Miami Marlins

Record: 58-91
Week 23 ranking: 28

In perhaps a fitting summary for each of their seasons, the Marlins' only win in a four-game series against the Mets last week came against Jacob deGrom. Outside of that victory, Miami dropped a 13-0 decision and was swept in a doubleheader. The Marlins then served up 14 runs to the Phillies to kick off the ensuing series. They are well on their way to the eighth last-place finish in their 26-season history. -- Casella

30. Baltimore Orioles

Record: 43-106
Week 23 ranking: 30

After signing a contract that paid him $23 million annually over seven years, Chris Davis has contributed very little to back up that investment. Should he maintain his hitting pace this year, Davis would become the first qualifying hitter to hit .174 or lower in a season since John Henry in 1914 (.169 for the Washington Senators). Only four more years to go on that contract. -- McCarthy